Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How much will they hate it? Unrest and budget cuts over the long run

by Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth


August 10, 2011

Governments cutting budget deficits have to consider not just the political reaction of the opposition and the media. A backlash on the streets, in the form of unrest and politically-motivated violence, is a real possibility. This column shows that since 1919, the level of instability has typically risen at the same time as budget cuts are implemented.

August 2011 has seen days of rioting in London and other cities in the UK. In Spain, demonstrators known as indignados recently occupied town squares and demanded a full-scale change of the political system. And Greece continues to see violent clashes between the police and demonstrators protesting against round after round of budget cuts.

By historical standards, however, all of these incidents are still quite mild – nowhere near the property damage and human cost of, for example, the 2005 violence in France (Ireland 2005).

What should governments expect if the scale of cutbacks increases? What drives such outbursts of violence against property and people, leading to buildings and vehicles burned, confidence in civic institutions and the police severely dented, and ultimately lives lost?


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